What are the best zombie films?
Zombies have been fascinating audiences for many years and much like their other supernatural brethren, they have also gone through great changes over the years. Zombies are no longer limited to just being slow-walking brain-munchers crafted from voodoo, their options are vast depending on the creator. In some cases, they aren’t even something to fear. They’ve changed speeds (World War Z) and have used guns (Day of the Dead). We’ve seen them come back from being brainless (Warm Bodies) and now we even have them almost entirely human, as long as they have a steady supply of brains (iZombie). The causes of zombies are just as varied and it’s all because zombies are among the most flexible creatures for subversion and dissidence. They remain as one of the most popular creatures in entertainment, leaving us with thousands of options to watch. Here is a list of 25 of the best films starring our favorite walking corpses in no particular order.
Dead Snow (2009)
In Dead Snow, eight Norwegian medical students on spring break go to a cabin to party. After one of their own disappears, a hiker arrives and tells them the history of the area. Specifically, that a troupe of Nazis disappeared in the woods during WWII and still roam the lands as the undead. The film is a fun mix of camp and gore, which is everything you would hope for from a movie about Nazi Zombies.
Return of the Living Dead (1985)
Freddy and another employee at a medical supply company accidentally release a gas into the air that causes the dead to rise. Return of the Living Dead is the quintessential 80s b-horror with an incredible soundtrack and punk rock attitude that is fueled by memorable characters and Linnea Quigley’s cemetery dance scene.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Barbra and Johnny visit their father’s grave when the dead rise and descend upon the world. George A. Romero paved the way for future zombie filmmakers by making a film that resonated with many people across the board and became the most profitable horror film created outside of Hollywood in the 1960s. Night of the Living Dead contains scenes that were terribly gruesome to audiences of the time and the film scarred many unsuspecting children, as the MPAA rating system wasn’t put in place until a month after the film’s release. The modern idea of hordes of zombies come from Romero’s work, making Night of the Living Dead one of the most important zombie films of all time.
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Shaun wants to turn his life around and win his girlfriend back, but also has to deal with the undead taking over his town. Shaun of the Dead is filled with both wit and gore, allowing high and low brow comedy and horror to reach a middle ground.
28 Days Later (2002)
A group of animal rights activists release chimpanzees from a research facility, not knowing that they were infected with a dangerous virus. 28 days after the breakout, Jim wakes up from a coma in an abandoned hospital. While searching for living people, he comes across the infected and the test of his survival instincts begins. 28 Days Later is one of the best films that doubles with political allegory and a captivating story. It is also one of the first sightings of the “fast zombie.”
Zombies have taken over America, thanks to a mutated strain of Mad Cow Disease, and college student, Columbus, wants to go back to his hometown to see if his family is still alive. He teams up with three other survivors, each with their own unique method of survival and destination in mind. Zombieland takes 80s camp and modern indie quirk and mushes them into a hilarious adventure.
Planet Terror (2007)
As part one of the Grindhouse double feature by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, Planet Terror centers around a bio-nerve gas that is released at a military base in Texas. The gas turns people into flesh-eating monsters and it is up to an odd group of survivors to save the world. This film is gritty and doesn’t take itself seriously, considering its homage to ‘70s exploitation films and some of its purposefully dropped frames and film scratches. It is worth watching just for Rose McGowan wielding a machine gun with her leg alone.
A virus infects the people of Pontypool, Ontario, and former radio shock jock, Grant Mazzy, is tired of giving people the traffic updates and weather. When the virus and infected come to the radio station, Mazzy and his crew attempt to save Ontario. This film largely takes place in one location, the radio station, with very few characters and it never misses a beat. The method of infection in this film is also unique, words, easily making Pontypool an innovative zombie film.
Zombi 2 (1979)
Serving as a sequel to a re-edited Italian version of Dawn of the Dead, Zombi 2 takes place on a Caribbean island where a search for a woman’s father, leads them to a zombie epidemic and researchers who are desperately trying to stop it. Zombi 2 was intended to be a return to the older zombie films that used voodoo and magic and was originally touted as a video nasty due to its extreme gore. The film grew to cult status and has grossed well over its ₤410 million budget at ₤3 billion.
White Zombie (1932)
A voodoo master transforms a woman into a zombie at the request of a man who wants to marry her, despite her engagement to another man. White Zombie is pretty cheesy, and not always in the best ways, but it has earned its spot on this list for being an entertaining piece of horror history as the first feature film regarding zombies.
A medical student experimenting with the re-animation of dead tissue causes havoc at Miskatonic University. Re-Animator is a smart horror comedy that takes mad scientists and zombies to a level that is fun, but questionable, because among its surreal comedy, it involves some sensitive material, like the undead raping the living. However, it wouldn’t be a great horror film if it didn’t make the audience uncomfortable.
Cemetery Man (1994)
Francesco Dellamorte, a caretaker of a small town cemetery in Italy, not only tends to the grounds, but also prevents the undead from leaving the cemetery and causing mayhem. Cemetery Man is a campy film that is simultaneously dreamlike with memorable sex scenes, giving it a unique weirdness that ranks it high among cult film lovers.
A reporter and her cameraman follow firefighters to an apartment where a woman is trapped, but she reacts violently toward police officers and bites one. The military seals off the apartment building, trapping the reporter and her cameraman inside with the aggressive woman and other residents. Found footage films are usually hit or miss with most audiences, but the documentary-style and shaky camera work of REC are with purpose and effective uses of the techniques. The found footage film brings the audience inside the world, which feels claustrophobic and dangerous.
Revelation Trail (2013)
A preacher and a lawman, each with personal demons, face the undead roaming frontier America and must decide whether they want to survive or succumb to the zombies. Revelation Trail is an underrated indie that explores the depths of humanity inside a zombie apocalypse. The film contains more personal drama than action, which sets it apart from many of the zombie films available.
In an alternative 1950s, radiation from space turns people into zombies but the corporation Zomcom has the zombies under control with collars. A housewife buys a zombie to be a servant and her son, Timmy, immediately befriends him. Just like in your average boy and his dog film, Fido bites a neighbor and Timmy fights to keep his best friend amid a zombie outbreak. Fido makes zombies endearing and as a throwback to classic family films with a gory twist, it is highly enjoyable.
Lionel’s mother is bitten by a poisonous rat-monkey while she stalked him and his date to the zoo. She dies and comes back to life, infecting the town. Braindead became retroactively popular after Peter Jackson’s success with The Lord of the Rings trilogy and gore enthusiasts call it one of the goriest splatter films.
Colin is bitten by a zombie and the film follows his progression through the town. Colin is not a highly polished film, but is an inspiration to all indie filmmakers as its budget was only £45, shot on a camcorder, and a Cannes selection. It makes up for its lack of fancy camera work and expensive gear by using what could be seen as disadvantages to evoke emotion and reactions from the audience.
Maggie, a teenaged girl in the Midwest, is bitten by a zombie and calls her father to not look for her. He ignores her request and finds her in a hospital for the infected. The film is a thoughtful exploration into the characters experiencing the zombie apocalypse. Maggie is another film in a recent trend that displays the psychological consequences that people face in these horrific environments, showing that the current generations of people are thinking about their actions and how they affect others and themselves.
Michael tries to find his ex-girlfriend, Gabi, while a rage virus spreads through Berlin. While the zombies within are not traditional reanimated corpses, they are mindless and after one thing: human flesh. The film is low budget and short with a run time at about an hour, but it is attention grabbing from the beginning. Despite not having much gore, its characters are compelling and realistic. Not to mention, they don’t have weapons, which increases the tension tenfold.
Two high school seniors skip school and explore an abandoned insane asylum. In the asylum’s basement, they discover a woman held captive who cannot die. The boys are sex-crazed and that is where much of the comedy of the film is supposed to come from, but it is where the horror lies. In Deadgirl, the protagonists are the villains and the film will leave any sane person uncomfortable.
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
The sequel to Night of the Living Dead, showcases the zombie apocalypse at a greater scale and the survivors take cover in a shopping mall. The obvious connections between commercialism and zombies combined with Tom Savini’s brilliant effects (such as the headshot in the beginning) make this film memorable and impactful.
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (1974)
George and Edna, two strangers who end up traveling with each other after Edna hits George’s motorcycle with her car, come upon grisly murders. The police believe the two are involved. In their attempt to clear their name, George and Edna discover that reanimated corpses are behind the murders. Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is another film that uses zombies as an allegory for environmental impact due to pesticides, which is something that still resonates with audiences today.
Dead and Buried (1981)
Sheriff Gillis investigates a series of murders on visitors to Potter’s Bluff. While he searches for a motive, he discovers flesh that is said to have been dead for a while. The film is genuinely suspenseful and builds tension very well with twists that turn Gillis’ world upside down, in addition to displaying excellent effects by Stan Winston.
Night of the Creeps (1986)
Zombies are created by parasites that enter the brain and college students take action to get rid of the problem. Night of the Creeps isn’t solely a zombie film as it contains many references to the b-movie genre, but that is what makes it a cult film buff’s film. It has a lot going on with a quick pace, gore, and the aforementioned references. Even the characters’ names are homages to horror.
The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)
An anthropologist looks into a drug being used to create zombies by Voodoo practitioners in Haiti at the request of a pharmaceutical company. In addition to being a throwback to the older iterations of zombies in horror history, The Serpent and the Rainbow is also based on true events, making the story even more intriguing. Of course, Wes Craven takes some liberties to make the film more fantastical than the original accounts. The film is more restrained than Craven’s other films and is one of his best of all time, in addition to being a captivating zombie film.